Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Small Town Santa

Lief Nilsson
Chester Center, The Blizzard

Growing up in a quiet CT town is on my mind today. One of my favorite memories of being a small child in a small town was when Santa came to town. To me, it symbolizes the love a small community can share with one another. It stands for creating innocence and happiness for our children.

Do you remember going to see Santa when you were a child? Did you see him in a mall, a store, at a party? I saw my Santa, along with a couple hundred other kids, every year in the center of our small, New England town (think Bedford Falls in "It's a Wonderful Life"). Just after dark, he would come down the hill, turning onto Main Street, standing on top of a fire was quite an entrance. He'd pull up to an antique sleigh in front of Norman Rockwell-esque store fronts. The Volunteer Firemen in our town were in on the fun, (doing all the hard work) acting as elves, escorting each child from the long line, up to Santa's sleigh, making sure that each child had a treat to take home.  Usually they all knew who you were...that's one of either the glories or the agonies, depending on what you've done, of living in a small town. Everyone knows whose son, daughter, little sister you are. In this case, it was great because once you were hoisted up on Santa's lap, he'd address you by name. He'd talk about your family. He'd remember that last year you asked for a skate board and that you got it and, "By the way, wasn't that you on your skate board in the church parking lot this past summer?" 
Santa knew things that you thought only Santa could know.

This small town Santa has been greeting kids for 38 Christmas'. Some of us who grew up sitting on this Santa's lap and asking for Atari games, Snoopy Snow Cone Makers and Star Wars action figures now have children of our own who are growing up with these same special memories, they're just asking for iPods now.  Santa has grown old.  Santa had to keep up with his grandchildren to know what is the HOT Christmas item now and days. Santa's suit is a little bit shabby, having been hauled out of moth ball storage year after year,  having countless children sit on his lap. But isn't that what makes it all so wonderful? He was not a spotless mall Santa. He was Santa himself though...a big man, with a big heart, with a love for making children happy at Christmas-time.
And he's my Dad.
How did you find out Santa was not one man but a collective movement? How did you find out that Santa wasn't real? My sister and I found out one day when I was in first grade. My friend Jenny happened to notice that Santa had the same ring as my father....a very specific gold signet ring, which has our family crest on it. "Could we be related to Santa?",  it went unspoken, but we knew when Santa started to wear white gloves and our Dad would be MIA during these events that, yes, "duh", it was Dad. Somehow that was ok. Somehow, it made my Dad even more special.

 Now as a parent, it makes me forget about some of the things I have felt like I've never understood about my Dad and I appreciate him as a man in a new light. It's funny that it took a red suit, a wig, a beard, (some years) a pillow, fake cotton eye brows and spectacles to disguise my Father- but when I think about it all now, this is when I recognize who he truly is, the most. I recognize his efforts to do something good, something kind, something special and something that will put a smile on the face of a child.  Isn't that what Santa is about? Isn't that a wonderful life.

This year, the small town of Chester, CT will have a new Santa sitting in it's sleigh.  My father has officially retired from volunteering to wear his Santa suit and it is time for him to move on.  I'd like to think that all of the children who have sat on his lap over the last 38 years and all of the parents who know who he really was, might miss him just a bit.  He will miss them, but he will be glad to be a "guest" at the party this year for the very first time, trying, I'm sure, not to let out a "HO, HO, HO", which I must say, he's perfected after all of these years.   

What are your special memories of visiting Santa when you were a child? Do you continue these traditions with your own children?

Hope it is the most wonderful time of the year for you,


  1. Awww Amy, I never knew that about your dad. Im jealous of the little town you grew up in. Your dad will always be Santa in that town's eyes!

  2. There is a commemorative pewter ornament that they made and sold a few years ago that has Santa on it, and it is my Dad. A very special thing to have grown up being a part of :)
    Love ya!